Most people love to revisit certain stories at Christmastime. In fact, my friend Dennis E. Powell revisits a beloved Christmas story of his in this week’s the View from Mudsock Heights column, which struck me as I had been thinking a great deal about revisited stories this week thanks to what had occupied my time ahead of Christmas. We need to hear stories told and told again; they give meaning and shape how we understand life.
We turn on It’s Christmas, Charlie Brown or Home Alone and it just feels right on Christmas week. I’ve never gotten into A Christmas Story, but I suspect for those who have, the reason they enjoy it quite so much is not far from the reason I so love the Peanuts Christmas special. We remember sharing these stories year after year with loved ones. They encapsulate something of the experiences we treasure of the season.
What had me thinking about stories is an annual Christmas project of mine and the “story retelling” aspect of it. Each year, I put together a Twelve Days of Christmas devotional booklet for those who want to dwell in the season just a bit longer, until the traditional end of Christmas on January 6.
I love the experience of spending those days after Christmas in the story that God tells us; it’s comforting not to let the “tidings of comfort and joy” pass by after December 25. I also find a great deal of the comfort I derive parallels why I’ll rewatch a beloved Christmas special or reread beloved more secular Christmas story time and again: there’s a comfort in soaking up the familiar.
That might sound like a not very “spiritual” reason to read the Christmas story in the Bible, but speaking to us in the comfort of familiar stories is how God has always worked. He expects us to need the return to the familiar repeatedly. He made us that way, after all.
This year’s booklet I put together goes through the repetitions in Scripture. How God didn’t just do one thing and then change course and do another. Instead, He set up history for us to see the repetition of the story for needing redemption until the day came that God-with-us would come into the world to bring it.
For example, on this fourth day of Christmas, those following the devotional guide with me are looking at the Passover. God had the Israelites put blood on their doorposts to be “passed over” during the worst of the plagues that hit Egypt prior to Israel’s departure to the Promised Land. They were not just to do what God commanded, but to do so and then reenact it each year (Numbers 9:1-14).
They were, in essence, being commanded to experience the comfort of returning to a familiar story each year.
Again and again in Scripture, God brings up repeating patterns —- often explicitly calling out the parallels, say, to the Exodus —- so that as things happened in life, the people could anchor the uncertainty of the present to the confidence of the comforting past.
Modern psychologists and literary critics have noted throughout human history our love for such repetitions. It seems like it goes to the very core of our being, which makes it totally unsurprising that the Creator Himself would thus choose to work within that framework.
Whether it is a devotional booklet like mine or simply spending this week in one of the Gospels, all of us would benefit from spending a bit more time as we conclude the year reliving the stories of God’s love. Reading (or rereading) the Bible over the coming year would be even better to provide those comforting stories a place in the ebbs and flows of life, rather than just at Christmas.
These past years have been wearying, so if there was ever a time when comfort was called for, now is a pretty good candidate. More than that, building on those anchor points now means all the more comfort in some uncertain point of life in the future when we come back to them.
That’s what God’s Word exists for —- to call us to the comfort of His love. We all find ourselves in Charlie Brown moments; Linus knew just what to do for such a moment.
If you find yourself saying “What’s Christmas all about” or “What’s life all about” at the end of 2022, maybe a return to a familiar story is just what you need. The familiar story from the author of the story of the world itself. It sure is what I need.